Or Modern Dutch, Explained
The door of the morning room was open as I went through the hall, and I caught a glimpse of Uncle Tom messing about with his collection of old silver. For a moment I toyed with the idea of pausing to pip-pip and inquire after his indigestion, a malady to which he is extremely subject, but wiser councils prevailed. This uncle is a bird who, sighting a nephew, is apt to buttonhole him and become a bit informative on the subject of scones and foliation, not to mention scrolls, ribbon wreaths in high relief and gadroon borders, and it seemed to me that silence was best. I whizzed by, accordingly, with sealed lips, and headed for the library, where I have been informed that Aunt Dahlia was at the moment roosting.
I found the old flesh-and-blood up to her marcelle wave in proof sheets. As the world knows, she is the courteous and popular proprietress of a weekly sheet for the delicately nutured entitled Milady's Boudoir. I once contributed an article to it on "What the Well-Dressed Man Is Wearing."
My entrance caused her to come to the surface, and she greeted me with one with one of those cheery view-halloos which, in the days she went in for hunting, used to make her so noticeable a figure of the Quorn, the Pytchley and other organizations for doing the British fox a bit of good.
"Hullo, ugly," she said. "What brings you here?"
"I understand, aged relative, that you wish to confer with me."
"I didn't want you to come barging in, interrupting my work. A few words on the telephone would have met the case, But I suppose some instinct told you that this was my busy day."
"If you were wondering if I could come to lunch, have no anxiety. I shall be delighted as always. What will Anatole be giving us?"
"He won't be giving you anything, my gay young tapeworm. I am entertaining Pomona Grindle, the novelist, to the midday meal."
"I should be charmed to meet her."
"Well, you're not going to. It's strictly a tete-a-tete affair. I'm trying to get a serial out of her for the Boudoir. No, I want you to go to an antique shop in the Brompton Road-it's just past the Oratory-you can't miss it-and sneer at a cow creamer."
I did not get her drift. The impression I received was that of an aunt talking through the back of her neck.
"They've got an eighteenth-century cow-creamer there that Tom's going to buy this afternoon."
The scales feel from my eyes.
"Oh, it's a silver whatnot, is it?"
"Yes. A sort of cream jug. Go there and ask them to show it to you, and when they do, register scorn."
"The idea being what?"
"To sap their confidence, of course. To sow doubts and misgivings in their mind and make them clip the price off a bit. The cheaper he gets the thing, the better he will be pleased. And I want him to be in a cheery mood, because if I succeed in signing the Grindle up for this serial, I shall be compelled to get into his ribs for a biggesh sum of money. It's sinful what these best-selling women novelists want for their stuff. So pop off there without delay and shake your head at the thing."
I am always compelled to put in what Jeeves would have called a nolle prosequi. Those morning mixtures of his are practically magical in their effect, but even after partaking of them one does not oscillate the bean.
"I can't shake my head. Not today."
She gazed at me with a censorious waggle of the right eyebrow.
"Oh, so that's how it is? Well, if your loathesome excesses have left you incapable of headshaking, you can at least curl your lip."
"Then carry on. And draw your breath in sharply. Also try clicking the tongue. Oh yes, and tell them you think it's modern Dutch."
"I don't know. Apparently it's something a cow-creamer ought not to be."
- The Code of the Woosters by P. G. Wodehouse
One morning sometime after Mr. P had heard the news that the Panero had found himself a young prune willing to feed out of the same crib for life he said,"Mrs. P, those lovebirds need a cow-creamer. See what you can do about it."
"Which lovebirds?" I asked.
Mr. P, taking a pause from his bacon and eggs said, "Why, that fellow. The one in his father's seersucker. You could heave bricks by the half hour in New York's most populous districts without hitting a girl willing to marry him without an anesthetic."
"Yes, that's the Egg, my freshly-buttered breakfast Crumpet."
So besides rearing Mr. P's offspring, cleaning Mr. P's floors, windows, cars, laundering Mr. P's clothes, making Mr. P's meals, and weeding Mr. P's flowerbeds, I was now charged with finding a sterling silver cow creamer for an art critic, the Panero, I've never met and his future ball and chain. Since silversmiths (American) run in my family, this was not a charge I undertook lightly. I was going to find the Paneros the nicest cow English creamer I could lay my hands on. I immediately went over to eBay because I knew the cheaper I got the thing the more pleased Mr. P would be. The idea was that at eBay people wouldn't understand cow creamers which would allow me to sneer, express misgivings and generally chip away at the price until I got the cow creamer for the price of a pig tape measure. But eBay has the capitalist spirit coursing through it veins and they do understand cow creamers. In fact, they understand them so well they even know, like P.G. Wodehouse did, that there are English cow creamers and then there are modern Dutch cow creamers. Since Aunt Dahlia, and ipso facto P.G., understood modern Dutch was something a cow creamer was not supposed to be, I thought I had better understand what modern Dutch was, before I made the unforgivable error of gifting a modern Dutch cow creamer to the Panero and his ideal mate.
My informal study of modern Dutch cow creamers swiftly led to an old Dutchman, John Schuppe (for lack of time I will just quote some of what I found):
It is possible to trace increased sophistication in design of creamer and capability of craft from century to century. Interestingly, the care in creation in the nineteenth century seems to have been lost by modern potters, who often produce the most elementary, stylized creamers that in some instances must be described as silly. I wonder if the difference is in the diminished appreciation of the cow in modern culture rather than a diminished capability of the potter's craft.
The cow creamer is thought to have originated in the eastern Mediterranean area more than 3,000 years ago. Felice Davis, writing in the New York World-Telegram and Sun in 1955, suggests that traders carried the craft to Holland-that country of cows-where it gained impetus in the eighteenth century. She calls Dutch silversmith, John Schuppe, who moved to England in 1750, the man "largely responsible for starting later cow creamers on their way." Mr. Hughes claims both Schuppe and David Willaume the younger as the two earliest silversmiths applying their skill in the creation of creamers in England.
Of the seven silver creamers in the Rice Collection, one appears to be a creation of Schuppe, who died in London in 1773.This particular creamer is of sterling silver, approximately three and one-half inches tall, and weighs five and one-half ounces. Typical of other silver cows," as the assay office termed them, an over-sized fly which serves as a miniature handle rests on the hinged lid. Flies were, of course, always directly associated with the milking operation and were not held in as low esteem as they are today. Thus the fly on the back was seen to the eighteenth and nineteenth century mind as a nice touch. The Rices acquired this fine piece in 1952 from Edward G. Wilson, Philadelphia antique dealer.
There it is. P.G. Wodehouse understood and Aunt Dahlia and Uncle Tom by proxy, that if one was to have a cow creamer, it was to be an English one made by the Dutchman, Schuppe, who had moved to London around 1750. Well, since Mr. P had declared the lovebirds needed a cow creamer, they were going to get a John Schuppe cow creamer. Eventually I found them one dating from 1765, or so. It even had the fly on its back so Wodehouse would have been pleased with my shopping ability. This past June, when we met with the Panero over a plate of oysters in the basement of Grand Central, along with several other luminaries of the New York art world including his intended, we gave them the cow creamer. Several people at this small fete did have cameras with them. Photos were taken. Even photos of the Panero examing his English cow creamer very closely. Perhaps one of them would be so kind to post pictures of the Paneros and their cow creamer (in the comments section) so everyone may see it?
Oh, you might need your reading glasses to see the cow creamer...
Mrs. P with help from P.G. Wodehouse